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The Water-Babies (Books of Wonder) Hardcover – April 25, 1997

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Series: Books of Wonder
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (April 25, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068814831X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688148317
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 7.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,201,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


''Everyone who has an interest in the exuberant, eclectic, ecological, and erotic aspects of Victorian literature should know this book . . . [A] delightful and important work of Victorian children's literature.'' --Naomi Wood, Associate Professor of English, Kansas State University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

Among the most popular children's books of the Victorian period, The Water-Babies continues to delight readers of all ages. It tells the story of a young boy named Tom, who escapes his harsh life as a chimney sweep by being transformed into a "water-baby." His adventures underwater introduce him to strange animals, gentle fairies, and exotic seascapes, and Kingsley frequently digresses from the mythical narrative with his commentary on political and scientific topics. Many of Linley Sambourne's remarkable illustrations from the 1886 edition are included in the text of the novel. This Broadview edition reproduces the first edition of The Water-Babies, published in 1863. The appendices include a broad selection of other 19th-century children's literature and excerpts from Kingsley's essays on evolution, hygiene, and education. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

A lovely fable and fairy tale!
The Illustrated Home Librarian
This book is one of my favorites from childhood.
Tylor May
A wonderful story and beautiful illustrations.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

164 of 172 people found the following review helpful By Paul B. on October 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
Kingsley's novel is brilliant--it's a fantastic and difficult read for both children and adults. But do NOT buy the abridged version (Puffin). One thing that is taken out is Kingsley's many sarcastic references to American democracy. The publishers have taken out the anti-American sentiment to sell more copies to Americans--this is, of course, a very American thing to do, and it's this sort of thing that led to Kingsley's satire in the first place. I would suggest that publishers stop mutilating books and start reading them. I certainly hope people will stop buying the abridged version.
I note, by the way, that the anti-Irish sections are left untouched.
Here are some passages--page numbers are to the excellent Oxford World's Classics version, ed. Brian Alderson (1995):
"But he [Cousin Cramchild] was raised in a country where little boys are not expected to be respectful, because all of them are as good as the President." (85)
"Being quite comfortable is a very good thing; but it does not make people good. Indeed, it sometimes makes them naughty, as it has made the people in America . . ." (115)
" But they were true republicans, those hoodies, who do every one just what he likes, and make other people do so too; so that, for any freedom of speech, thought, or action, which is allowed among them, they might as well be American citizens of the new school." (141)
"So she packs them [the sperm whales] away in a great pond by themselves at the South Pole, two hundred and sixty-three miles south-east of Mount Erebus, the great volcano in the ice; and there they butt each other with their ugly noses, day and night from year's end to year's end. And if they think that sport--why, so do their American cousins." (147)
There are others.
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54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Fisher TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
"The Water-Babies" by Charles Kingsley is best described with reference to J. M. Barrie's more famous work "Peter Pan", both of which belong in the canon of Victorian fairytales. Kingsley's work is poised between two words: the world of Christianity and the whimsical realm of fairies, and the onset of the scientific and historical developments that resulted in the evolution theory, industrial factories and the War. Although certainly not as famous as Barrie's tale of the boy that never grew up, Kingsley's story is equally fascinating, though much more difficult to read.

Tom is a young chimney sweep of London, under the brutal care of Mr Grimes who doesn't hesitate in sending him up the filthiest, narrowest chimneys whilst he collects the money from downstairs. Tom himself is quite the little savage, but when his master is employed at Harthover Place, he is in for a surprise. Getting lost on the rooftop and crawling down the wrong chimney, Tom finds himself in a room where three things change his life. The first is a picture of the Crucifixion on the wall. Having no idea who Christ is, Tom is rather intrigued by the picture: "Poor man, he looks so kind and quiet. But why should the lady have such a sad picture in her room?" The second is the young girl asleep in the bed, beautiful and peaceful. The third is his own reflection in the mirror, which horrifies him - "Tom, for the first time in his life, found that he was dirty".

Accidentally waking the little girl on his way out, Tom sets the entire household upon him - out of the house, across the moorlands and down the valley to meet his "death" in a nearby creek, and his rebirth as a water-baby.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By on November 18, 1998
Format: Hardcover
[A warning--there is no unabridged version of "Water Babies" now in print. The Puffin notes that it is abridged, but the Wonder Book with the beautiful Wilcox-Smith illustrations does not state that it is abridged, but it is. Check university libraries for 1898 or so versions illustrated by "Linley Sambourne."] "The Water Babies" first published in 1863 is a classic mid-Victorian fairy tale that also reveals some of the preoccupations and anxieties of Victorian culture including sanitary health reform (hence the emphasis on cleanliness); Christian socialism (that is social reform based on Christian teachings); child labor and child abuse; and primary education. The dark side of Victorian culture is also revealed in this tale--especially in the original unabridged versions. Here we see a philosophy of social Darwinism that leads easily to notions of white supremacy as well as much anti-Irish sentiment--this at a time when Ireland had still not recovered from the horrific "Great Famine" of 1845-1852. There is also a sub-text of anxiety about adolescent male sexuality--of young men needing to maintain sexualy purity before marriage--again, the emphasis on Tom purifying and cleansing himself. Although written for children, it is a rather difficult text whose language does not invite the young reader in in the way that the Oz books or the Alice books do. I think its real use is as a document of mid-Victorian culture and is best read in the context of other "social problem" or "condition-of-England" novels such as Kingsley's "Alton Locke" or Dickens's "Hard Times."
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